Anand Fadeout

Mdeii Life - Anand Krishnamoorthi's blog

Sunday, May 06, 2007

How do you know when to take that cigarette break during a film you've never seen?

Paruthiveeran is quite a remarkable film. Ameer's command over his mise-en-scene is masterful and the film is best enjoyed in a packed hall.

The last time I met Ameer, he seemed quite piqued by the film certification/censorship system in India. I have little doubt that he would have had to fight his case hard with Paruthiveeran as well. Well, whatever we might have to say about the merits of the system, attending this screening has taught me a lot about the sheer worthlessness of film certification/pre-censorship in India.

This film with its recommended cuts and generous admissions has earned a U/A, the equivalent of a PG-13. Not that I entirely approve of a monolithic classification system but let's say I do so for arguments sake. This film should have got an A (15+) for general mature content, strong language, protracted graphic unarmed combat, violence with sharp objects, and a disturbing scene of rape. Since the film has outraged my morals, I can actually take the board to court for telling me that it is OK to take my family to this film.

But in reality, I do not think that any one person's system of rating actually works for everybody else. This means that I never really mind the Tamil movie audiences' penchant for bring little kids to watch people being killed. Now, if not me, somebody else might express moral outrage at such irresponsible parenting. Film pre-censorship wishes to do just that, and hopelessly fails. Not just because enforcement is lax, but because people (and parents) have already made informed choices and really don't bother about some silly piece of paper. So the next time you see a 6-yr-old sitting next to you enjoying that really raunchy item-number, it is quite possible that the parents are neither ignorant nor irresponsible, they might just be very liberal.

Let me digress a little. Arthur De Vany in his excellent book Hollywood Economics refers to a "turning point" during a film's run (he mentions 4 weeks after release) where the revenue curves for the hits and misses dramatically diverge. This might appear to be imitative herding, but De Vany explains that it is in fact a result of a word-of-mouth information sharing system among the (potential) audience members. Technically we all decide if a movie is a hit or not, but interestingly cannot predict how we're gonna decide.

It is easy for all us movie-goers to acknowledge the existence of word-of-mouth information, but it is remarkable to see how big a role it plays in a film's success or failure. Getting back to our film, Paruthiveeran is in its 11th week. We cannot empirically confirm the 4-week rule for Tamil cinema, but it is quite evident that the film is already a box-office success. The audience is pretty much already clued-in and know what to look forward to in the film.

Broad assumptions about media effects, and the influence of such a powerful medium as film on our poor audience, are significant bases for film pre-censorship in Indian law. To tell you the truth, Paruthiveeran is a disturbing film, it is a powerful film, it certainly is designed to elicit a loathing born out of frustration (all a la Straw Dogs), it also is meant to zap young men to spontaneously dance in the aisles during the folk song numbers.

A study of media effects should not merely stop at "does it or does it not". "What happens then" is where we should continue, and this is where ideas differ. I personally subscribe to the idea that "wilful suspension of disbelief" lasts until we walk out of the doors, or a minute and a half into the end credits, whichever happens first.

But what really matters is that even if people do get affected/influenced by films, they all do not react the same way, and more importantly, they use the same word-of-mouth information sharing system to temper/modify their reactions to the film. I do not know how many were repeat-audiences for this screening of Paruthiveeran, but about a 3rd of the hall emptied just before the beginning of the infamously disturbing rape scene. Yes, some people do not want to be disturbed by the film. But they make that informed decision and simply walk out at the exact right time.

It appears we are more knowledgeable and responsible than we would like to acknowledge we are. And the central board of film certification takes us for fools. Also, we really don't care what they think.

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7:02 pm


Comments to How do you know when to take that cigarette break during a film you've never seen?

'Quite possible that the parents are liberal' - maybe, but I wouldn't bet on it. It's been my observation that a reasonable chunk, maybe even a majority, of standard Tamil movie watching parents, don't think about, or even care about how the film impacts their kids. It's just that THEY want to watch the movie, and simply don't have any option but to drag the kids along. They don't even have strong opinions on the issue - perhaps it's too much a part of their everyday lives?

posted by Blogger Anand 

8:56 am, May 07, 2007

Straw Dogs?
I think the depiction in Paruthiveeran is much more bloody and brutal, but not disturbing in the same sense (I may even add, not as much) as in Straw Dogs. But, then, I saw the trimmed down version. (Isn't that what they're showing in all theatres now?)

posted by Anonymous Anonymous 

4:57 pm, May 07, 2007

I heard Ameer say in the JayaTV interview that he is preparing a different version of the movie for screening in film festivals abroad. Just curious, Is this an accepted practice ?

posted by Anonymous Anonymous 

12:10 am, May 08, 2007

Anand: Maybe

Zero: Effects vary. My own reaction to Paruthi... was certainly different. I saw Straw Dogs when I was much younger, and, to clarify, had not known much of the 'world' then. But one thing I am quite certain of is that Ameer's intention (and the result as I have personally heard described by some audience members) was to produce the same kind of effect.

BNB: This is eminently possible, both legally, as well as in terms of the unwritten code of filmmakers (if there is any). So if I have understood your ideas of 'acceptance', I don't think anybody in the industry will have any problems with it. There will always be the few (already some PC voices are sounding out) who will make some noise. From what I heard, that particular print is said to exist in a place I know.

posted by Blogger Anand 

10:03 pm, May 08, 2007

Fair enough, Anand.
I wasn't putting down Paruthiveeran in comparison actually (it was disturbing!), just felt that Straw Dogs operates on a different level -- the line between rape and consensual sex is tellingly blurred, thus "offering" a much disturbing (and, of course, politically incorrect) gender equation.

posted by Anonymous Anonymous 

10:59 pm, May 09, 2007

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posted by Anonymous Anonymous 

5:59 am, May 28, 2007

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